Walsh backs Gayle to inspire Windies
At Adelaide on Monday, Chris Gayle became the first captain since Mark Taylor in 1998 to carry his bat through an innings, when his second-innings unbeaten 165, from 285 deliveries, restored much-needed pride in West Indian cricket and offered redemption to an embattled leader.
Criticism was flung from all corners at Gayle following his pair of casual dismissals and his side's capitulation in the first Test at the Gabba. Yet this magnificent response in Adelaide was enough to silence dissenting voices and earn the acclaim of the former West Indian captain Courtney Walsh.
Walsh grew up watching a united and gifted West Indies side dominate world cricket. When he made his debut in 1984 the islands were littered with talent and had, in Clive Lloyd, a leader who epitomised the pride and self-respect needed to succeed at the highest level. "When I was younger we were a well-disciplined West Indian team," Walsh told Cricinfo. "We have to bring the team together like that again."
There were many that doubted Gayle's ability to do that. He had made disparaging remarks about Test cricket when West Indies toured England in May, and had overseen a strike by his players that resulted in a second-string West Indies team losing a series to Bangladesh at home.
As the contract dispute was still rumbling on, Darren Ganga had unexpectedly led a young Trinidad and Tobago side to the semi-final of the Champions League Twenty20. A hallmark of his leadership was his ability to instil discipline into his players and many felt he was the credible alternative.
Yet it was these precise faculties, so often missing from West Indian cricket recently, that Gayle displayed so admirably in his Adelaide knock and Walsh is confident that Gayle is now the right man to unite the team.
"He has made a few mistakes in the past and I think all of us go through a similar period but I think all he wants to do is focus on his cricket now. We need someone who people will follow and someone who can pull the team together and I think he is the best man for the job."
After a Test career spanning 17 years, Walsh has a new priority for the sport. In a programme started by his charity, the Courtney Walsh Foundation, he hopes to take cricket into young-offenders institutions in Jamaica, as part of an initiative to help young people on the road to recovery.
"It's about the discipline of sport," he said. "We want to give these guys something to do, something to get involved with and something that can take their mind away from the state that got them into trouble in the first place."
A fellow Jamaican looking to return after a difficult period is Marlon Samuels. Earlier this month, Cricinfo revealed Samuels's plans to resurrect his international career following a two-year suspension. The sentence will be lifted next year and Walsh believes Samuels can come back stronger, perhaps even as inspiration to those he seeks to help.
"He was very disappointed to get suspended and we hope that he will come back and, not necessarily walk straight back into the West Indies team, but play for Jamaica and gradually makes his way back to international cricket. He's a very talented cricketer."
To build on the encouraging signs of the second Test, the West Indies need to rediscover the flair and passion that was once so prevalent in the Test side. They could seek inspiration from Gayle's last innings, or even Walsh's entire career.
Sahil Dutta is assistant editor of Cricinfo